How’s the weather up there?

A few thoughts on the importance of mental health awareness, focusing on this year’s theme, Body Image.

Mental health. It’s a topic we used to be so unwilling to discuss.

Chin up. Stiff upper lip. Sticks and stones.

These used to be words to live by, and do you know what? I’m glad we’re finally doing away with them. Contrary to traditional belief, it actually takes more strength to admit that you’re not doing so well and to seek help than it does to carry on regardless. To admit to feeling vulnerable, to seek out the aid of a fellow human being, takes a great deal of courage.


It is, of course, Mental Health Awareness Week, the theme for this year is Body Image. How we feel about our bodies, how we and others perceive the way we look is something that can have a huge impact on our day to day lives.


Anyone who meets me will tell you I’m tall. 6’4, to be exact. I’ve heard all the jokes, usually to do with the weather. Some people don’t get creative at all and simply point it out, as though it were something I was unaware of. Now, I can hear you already. “What’s so bad about being tall?” There are some practical considerations. Leg room is often a problem, whether travelling or visiting the theatre. Doorways are often not my friends, and I’ve worked in buildings where I couldn’t actually stand entirely upright without fear of concussion.


All that aside, the simple fact is that I don’t like being tall. I never have. I stoop when walking. It’s only recently that I’ve noticed just how much I have been stooping and have taken steps to try and stop. I certainly didn’t realise I’d been doing it. When your physical body requires you to be literally head and shoulders above everyone else but your mind is telling you you’re unworthy of any kind of attention, stooping seems like a natural defence mechanism. In the past few years I’ve come to feel a great deal better about myself as a person, and find that ultimately I’m not slouching as much.


The other thing I’m incredibly self conscious about when it comes to my body is hair. I don’t mean the hair on my head, I’m talking about the hair everywhere else. Mostly on my back. You can stuff a pillow with what’s currently growing out my back (I don’t though, that would be weird). This has always made me very unwilling to take my shirt off in public. I’ve never been sure of the reason why, but it used to make me feel so unattractive. Again, in recent years I’ve found it bothering me slightly less and less, but it still remains something I’d deeply like to change about myself.


Both these issues, the height and the hair, are things that many people could easily dismiss. “So what, plenty of people haveĀ real issues.” Yes, I do see how to some people my feelings could be dismissed as superficial, but that’s a dangerous road. The moment we start dismissing an individual’s concerns about their body image, we open up the possibility of dismissing everyone’s concerns. It’s certainly not a competition. Everyone has something about themselves they’d like to change, and each is just as valid as the last. This is because these concerns matter to the individual themselves.


Overall, I am ecstatic that the issues surrounding mental health are something that is finally entering the consciousness of the wider public. I don’t recall discussing it at school. Not once. Nobody would ever ask someone else ‘Are you okay?’ and actually be prepared to hear an in-depth response. Like so many people, I grew up believing that stress was something that happened to other people and couldn’t possibly ever happen to me. I was too strong for that.


Well, December 2016 put paid to that little delusion. After months of build up, I found I was breaking down at work and was signed off with stress and anxiety. I have never felt worse in my life. I’d never felt so bad that I would start physically shaking for seemingly no reason. I’d never been so pent up with nervous energy that I couldn’t stand still. Walking into a shop to discuss getting a new phone nearly sent me into a panic attack, causing me to retreat as swiftly as possible. The fact is, mental health difficulties can strike anyone, anywhere, anytime.


Talk to people. Ask how they are and mean it. Be prepared to sit and listen. Most importantly, be kind.


Oh, and since you asked, it’s raining. This is England.

Why volunteer with the National Trust?

My account of why volunteering with the National Trust is a great experience for everyone!

Time is a precious commodity, and all too often we never seem quite sure of how to use it. The demands we make on ourselves, as well as those made by others, strip away the hours until that deadline you were so determined to make came and went without even so much as a “By your leave”.


Managing your creative time can be even more difficult. Time is set aside but if the Muse fails to pay you a visit, you end up with very little to show for what feels like more wasted time. I’d like to take a moment to propose a rather radical remedy for these bouts of writer’s block. It has certainly done wonders for me this past year.

Volunteer at a local National Trust property!

Now do spare me a moment of your time, time that I have already acknowledged to be most precious, and let me explain why giving just a smidgeon of your time a week can be such a tonic.


First and foremost, you’ll be helping to support an organisation that works tirelessly to preserve much of our cultural heritage. In many cases there are properties that would not exist in the state they do today without the efforts of the National Trust. Take Dyrham Park, for example.


Dyrham Park, photo taken by David R Lord.

By the 1950s, the last owner of Dyrham Park was prepared to strip the house of its contents and demolish the house. Luckily it was instead entrusted to the government, with the National Trust taking over the property in 1961. Since then, extensive renovation work has been underway to restore and maintain the house. Most recently the roof has undergone a significant amount of work.


Dyrham Park is the ancestral home of the Blathwayts, built by William Blathwayt from 1692 to 1704. Mr. Blathwayt was a very influential man of his time, holding various positions most notably under King William III. Mr. Blathwayt’s ability to speak fluent Dutch made him a great asset to the King, and Dyrham Park was built mainly while Mr. Blathwayt was away accompanying the King on various matters of state.


The house contains an extensive collection of Dutch paintings and Delft china. Indeed, the entire house was so decorated as to impress William III on his much anticipated visit to Dyrham Park. A visit that, sadly, never happened. The story goes that after William III’s unexpected death, Mr. Blathwayt hoped that Queen Anne would instead be making a visit to Dyrham Park. Alas, the Queen allegedly so despised her predecessor that all his favourites were shunned, including Mr. Blathwayt. He retired quietly to Dyrham Park where he died in 1717.


By and large, Mr. Blathwayt was forgotten by history. It wasn’t really until the National Trust acquired Dyrham Park and after some extensive research that it became clear just how instrumental Mr. Blathwayt had been in reforming the structure of government and theĀ  civil service in England. This, for the moment, concludes why the National Trust is such a vital organisation that needs our support.


Now for the slightly more selfish reasons for volunteering. It is a fantastic source of personal inspiration on so many fronts. You get to work in a beautiful setting, learning as you go. You receive induction training, of course, but the true fountain of knowledge comes from your fellow volunteers. People that you may have never known otherwise, sharing their experiences of life in general and their stories about the property. You are altogether surrounded by sources of inspiration, so long as your senses are open to them.


Volunteering at Dyrham Park also greatly appealed to the actor in me, or rather the storyteller. What else is an actor if not a storyteller? Learning so much about the history of a place and the people who lived there brings you into contact with stories that you might struggle to find on the GCSE History syllabus. Not grand events on the world stage, but stories of everyday life, of small events that meant big things for the property. Telling these stories to fresh audiences, potentially every few minutes, made me think a great deal about how I go about telling a story.


Considering that my partner and I only first visited Dyrham Park early in 2017, I can honestly say that the place has had a significant impact on my life. We received an e-mail about a Volunteer Open Day and out of sheer curiosity I went along. Before I knew it I had signed up for an interview, soon to be followed by induction sessions and was then allowed to monitor rooms in the house all by myself. Interacting with the public, giving them information about the house and it’s history.


In short, volunteering with the National Trust is an altogether unique experience. I recommend it to people of all ages. Even if it is something you only do for a short period, I am convinced it will be worth your time.

The only thing we have to fear …

It’s that time of year! All Hallow’s Eve is upon us. That glorious holiday when fully grown adults go all out on spooky costumes, and cosplayers like myself moan that we have nothing to wear. In all seriousness, I enjoy Halloween more than Christmas. Sure, Christmas makes you feel all warm and fuzzy but at its core, Halloween acknowledges something vital.




It’s a primal necessity hard-wired into our very beings. A natural response to finding yourself in peril. It gets the heart beating and the adrenaline pumping. There’s the fun kind of fear such as the moment you leap out of your seat during a horror movie, then there’s the not-so-fun kind.


The fear of the unknown. The fear of what might happen. Not just to ourselves but to our friends and loved ones. That’s why we have things like Christmas, to celebrate what time we have together and to stave off those fears of unforeseen dangers that could overwhelm us on a daily basis given half the chance. For many people those fears come to pass, which makes the bonds of family and friendship all the more vital. We cherish each other in the good times, support each other through the bad. That’s what being a decent human being is, and it’s how we conquer those fears.


Then there is another, sub-section of fear that is to be conquered. The kind of fear that holds us back. I touched upon it briefly in my last blog, concerning how frightening it is to hand your creative work over to someone else. It is tempting to keep our creations to ourselves, to hide them away from any criticism, but if everyone did that the world would be poorer for it.


The first thing to acknowledge when you create anything, be it a song, a story, a painting, is that not everyone is going to like it. Some will be well versed in the art of constructive criticism, giving you helpful advise on how you can improve your work while drawing attention to what you’ve done well. That being said, there are also those who will just seek to take a big dump on what you’ve done. Nothing constructive, no insight, just a deliberate effort to tear someone down. In this day and age it is usually done anonymously, hiding behind a username and an avatar.


Sadly we are never going to live in a world where people don’t do such things. There are those who say that if you can’t take criticism of any kind, you shouldn’t put your work out there in the first place. Don’t go to that audition, the director will hate what you do and tell you so. Don’t submit that story, nobody wants to read it and if they do they’ll hate it. That’s the fear talking.


We can encourage people to be kinder by all means, but the truth is there will always be people who just want to tear others down for various reasons. The trick to getting over the fear of criticism is not to silence the critics, but to filter it. Find the constructive and take it on board. Seek out your fellow creatives and share what you have so that we may all grow. Take pride in the courage it took to share your work with the world.


Now, that being all said and done, let’s all go eat candy until we’re sick.


Happy Halloween!



First blog post …here we go!

No turning back now!

Well, I’d been threatening to do it for long enough, so here it is! A blog.

I’ll be touching on various topics to do with writing, maybe a dash of acting thrown in here and there as they’re both very close to my heart. They form a symbiotic relationship as far as I’m concerned. One compliments the other.

Although maybe that’s just me.